Tool IE-1: Exploring inquiry activity and tasks

For this tool you will need the following resources:

  • IE-1 PowerPoint
  • Handout 1: Sample task 1
  • Handout 2: Sample task 2

The aim of this tool is to explore how tasks can be used to promote inquiry learning. The tool download_powerpointbegins with a short discussion about the characteristics of inquiry learning in mathematics. The group then examine some specific tasks and consider how these might be used in a mathematics classroom to promote inquiry learning.


First discuss with the teachers what inquiry looks like. Ask them to think about what sorts of things students would be doing if they were doing inquiry learning in mathematics. They should be able to get started, but if not, you might refer to the mascil ‘Inquiry Learning Dimensions’. These are listed below:

  • Exploring situations;
  • Planning investigations;
  • Experimenting systematically;
  • Interpreting and evaluating;
  • Communicating results.

If you do use this list, ask them to what extent they agree with these dimensions, what they would add, what is less important to them and so on. You want them to consider the dimensions critically and not just to accept them.

Now show the teachers the two tasks you want them to look at.

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Ask them to work in pairs, one on each task, to analyse the task in terms of the likely student activity it would provoke and to suggest where this activity might fit within the dimensions of ‘inquiry learning’. Also ask them to think about the extent to which the task fits with the world of work. They should then share with each other, first by outlining the task (what the student should do) and then by explaining what they have concluded about inquiry activity.


Bring the group together. Ask each pair to select one of the two tasks and to present their findings to the group.

Ask the group about:

  1. What they as teachers would and would not do to encourage inquiry activity within their classrooms;
  2. How they might change the task so that it fits better with the world of work.

(Note that all pairs will be looking at the same tasks. If you prefer, give out some other tasks as well, but be aware that the group sharing time would take much longer as all teachers will need to become familiar with the tasks presented before they could engage with the findings.)

Ask the teachers to devise a research question related to the use of tasks to promote inquiry. The should select a task of their choice, but which they consider as a good task in terms of promoting inquiry approaches.

Each teacher should then teach the task and make some observations that will allow them to answer the research question. They should be prepared to report about their experiences in the next professional development session. When they report back, you should encourage them to reflect on the lesson, the responses of the students and what they themselves have learned.